Saved by the Scoundrel – Rose Pearson

“Can you go fetch some more ale from the cellar? Looks like we’ll be busy tonight!” Caroline Devonshire laughed aloud as Mrs. Beeson, the tavern owner, shook her head at one of the men who was clearly asking for more liquor, despite the fact that he could not even raise his head from where it lay on the table. Setting down her cloth, she moved through the door that led to their own private quarters and grabbed the wooden handle of the trap door that led to the cellar. Tugging it open, Caroline found a candle and carefully made her way into the cellar, trying not to shudder at the thought of rats. She should have been used to such a thing by now, she told herself, given that she’d been going down into the cellar almost every night for so many years. In fact, she could still recall the first time Mrs. Beeson had shown her where to go and what to do. She’d been younger then, much younger, but the sight of all the barrels and supplies stored down below had astonished her. “Liquid gold,” she murmured, picking up a smaller keg and hoisting it onto her shoulder, wincing as the rough wood sent a splinter into her finger. That was what Mrs. Beeson had called it, all that time ago. She’d told Caroline that men would pay well for good ale and had told her sternly that she was never to water it down, as some of the tavern owners were inclined to do. Caroline had learned that the hard-working men of Smithfield Market would come to the Beeson Arms over any other tavern if they sold good quality ale for a reasonable price. It still astonished her just how much of it some of them could drink! Sweat trickled its way down her back as she put yet another keg down. She had brought four up from the cellar now, and surely that would do! Sighing to herself, she paused for a moment or two, simply to catch her breath.

It was hard work here in the tavern, even though she was profoundly grateful to Mrs. Beeson for all she had done for her. Sometimes it just became rather wearying, having to force half-drunk men to leave the tavern, wincing as they tried to paw at her on their way out. They usually got a hearty slap from Mrs. Beeson if they tried such a thing, although Caroline hadn’t quite yet managed to raise a hand to anyone. She preferred to use strong words to make her point, which, for the most part, seemed to work. It was only when some of the men were so far in their cups that they seemed to have lost the ability to listen that she became a little more intimidated. “Thank goodness for Martin,” she murmured to herself, picking up one of the kegs and carrying it back through to the front of the tavern. Martin was a new addition to the tavern, hired by Mrs. Beeson to ensure that she and Caroline were never in danger.

Mrs. Beeson had said that it was simply because she’d become a little older these last few years and needed a man’s strength to help her move some of the men when it came to closing time, but Caroline suspected it was also due to the fact that she was now of age. Mrs. Beeson had always been a protective figure in Caroline’s life, ever since she’d come to the Beeson Arms, and for that, Caroline was profoundly grateful. Even now, even though she was safely behind the counter, Caroline was glad to know that Martin was nearby, watching everyone through those dark beady eyes of his. He would be ready to step in, in case things became a little too rowdy. Deep down, Caroline hoped that Mrs. Beeson and Martin might one day, perhaps, marry, for she had seen the way that they looked at one another – although she had not said as much to Mrs. Beeson, of course. Mrs.

Beeson had been on her own ever since her husband had died and left her the tavern some ten years ago now, which had been around the same time that Caroline had come into her life. They’d worked in this tavern together, had worked hard to build it up and make it the best tavern in Smithfield Market. That hard work had paid off. Caroline smiled to herself as she put another keg down behind the counter, hearing the loud conversations all mixing together above her head as the men talked loudly about all kinds of things. Someone was singing, although she had no idea who it was or what song they were attempting. As she laughed, she heard someone else join in too, although they appeared to be singing an entirely different song. “Thank you, Caroline,” Mrs. Beeson said, bustling over to her and handing her the cloth. “Clean up the counter, will you? That Mr. Johnston’s gone and spilled his glass everywhere and you know what I say about the counter!” Caroline smiled at Mrs.

Beeson, seeing the sharpness of her eye as she glared at Mr. Johnston, who had gone a slight shade of red. Mrs. Beeson was shorter than Caroline, with strong arms and back that told everyone who saw her that she wouldn’t accept any kind of nonsense from them. Her long black hair was always twisted up neatly into a bun. Lately, Caroline had spotted one or two silver hairs threading amongst the black. She had a square jaw, a strong nose, and dark brown eyes that didn’t miss a single thing. Whilst Caroline had heard Mrs. Beeson complain that she was not in any way a handsome woman, to her, Mrs. Beeson had such a beauty in her character that it did not matter how she looked.

Her kind heart, her goodness, and her fierce determination to do all she could to look after Caroline meant so much to Caroline that she felt as though she were never able to express it. She worked hard, day in and day out, with the tavern only closed on Sundays, as expected. Mrs. Beeson had taught Caroline everything she knew about this life. In return, Caroline was determined to work as hard as she could so that the Beeson Arms would continue to do well. “I’ll get right to it,” Caroline replied, picking up the cloth and going to rinse it in the bowl of water behind her. “Is there broken glass?” Mrs. Beeson shook her head. “No, thank goodness, but there’s a stack of glasses and tankards that’ll need washing.” Caroline bit back a groan, trying her best to nod and smile.

“Thank you, Caroline,” Mrs. Beeson murmured, now looking a little less frustrated. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Plunging the final glass into the bowl of now lukewarm water, Caroline scrubbed it thoroughly before setting it aside, knowing that she would have a great many more drinking vessels to wash before the night was through. This was the one chore she hated the most, simply washing the dirty pewter tankards or glasses over and over again. Picking up her cloth, she began to dry them, whilst keeping a close eye on the men she could see through the open doorway that led back into the tavern itself. Mrs. Beeson was doing a fine job on her own, as she always did, making sure that the men who asked for more ale got what they wanted. Caroline knew she wouldn’t always give them a full glass depending on the state they were in. She was good that way, Caroline thought to herself, knowing that Mrs.

Beeson was both honest and kind-hearted. She never gave a man half a pint and charged for a full one, even though some were so drunk that they wouldn’t have noticed. There was something about working in Smithfield Market that made everyone a little more aware of each other, as though they knew they were expected to look out for one another. That was what Mrs. Beeson did and it was what she had instilled in Caroline. If a man was drunk, then he’d struggle to get up in time for work in the morning, and if he didn’t get to work in the morning, then he might be dropped from his employment and that would mean no more money. Money that he would use to feed, clothe and house not only himself but his family. It was, as Mrs. Beeson had said so often before, her responsibility to ensure that didn’t happen. A man in his cups wasn’t able to remember to take that responsibility for himself, and so would demand more and more ale – but Mrs.

Beeson would always refuse to give it to him, no matter how much he asked. That was probably why they had such a good reputation, Caroline mused to herself, setting down another dry glass. The men knew that Mrs. Beeson would never let them give in to the worst of themselves. The door to the tavern opened and in came another three or four men. Caroline shook her head, a half smile on her face. It was late enough already and here these men were looking for something to drink when, most likely, they ought to be thinking about heading on home to their families. Mrs. Beeson would get them a couple of drinks, of course, but within the hour, she’d be taking last orders and then closing up the tavern until the morrow. “And then I can head to bed,” Caroline murmured to herself, stifling a yawn.

She always grew tired this time of night, when it drew near to closing time. All she had to do was keep on going for just a little longer. “Miss Devonshire?” Looking up, Caroline saw one of their regular patrons standing framed in the doorway, leaning heavily against it. “Mr. Moorside,” she said, firmly, with only a small smile on her lips. “You know very well you’re not meant to be back here.” He chuckled low in his throat. “But how can I stay back there when I know you are in here?” She shook her head, letting out a long breath as she sighed inwardly. This was one of the downfalls of working in a tavern. “Mr.

Moorside, I know full well that you are married with a couple of children under your roof and I’m not the type to go after a man such as that.” He didn’t move, the smile lingering on his handsome face. “Is that so?” “It is,” she said firmly, wondering why she had to tell this man the same thing every few days. “But you know that already, Mr. Moorside.” The smile stretched even further on his face, making him look a little like a jack in the box as the shadows flickered across his features. “But I’m a little lonely, Miss Devonshire,” he wheedled, one eyebrow lifted. “You know that my wife’s gone and got herself with child again and she doesn’t want me in her bed.” Trying not to roll her eyes, Caroline planted both hands on her hips. “That means you should be taking care of your wife then, Mr.

Moorside,” she said sternly, “instead of just worrying about your own pleasures.” Mr. Moorside’s smile finally began to fade and he shook his head in apparent dismay. “Does that mean you aren’t amenable to my advances then, Miss Devonshire?” “As before, Mr. Moorside,” she stated, calmly. “You will find me unchanged in this. No, I do not care for any man’s advances, no matter how kind or sweet they may try to be in encouraging me into their arms.” She lifted one eyebrow, keeping her stance strong. “I do hope I’ve made myself clear.” The face of Mrs.

Beeson appeared just behind Mr. Moorside, her eyes flashing suspiciously. “Is everything all right here?” Caroline rolled her eyes as Mr. Moorside jumped in surprise, turning to face Mrs. Beeson and managing to stagger just a little as he did so. “Mr. Moorside, is there a reason for you being in the back of my establishment?” Mrs. Beeson asked, warningly. “I do hope you’re not bothering my Caroline again.” Mr.

Moorside held up his hands in supposed defense. “No, not at all, Mrs. Beeson. I was just talking to her, that’s all. Thought she might be a bit lonely in here all by herself.” Mrs. Beeson narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you worry about Caroline, Mr. Moorside. She’s just fine as she is, isn’t that right, Caroline?” Caroline nodded, a wry smile on her face as she saw Mr.

Moorside begin to stutter. “I would hate to have to ban you from the Beeson Arms,” Mrs. Beeson continued, a little coldly. “But any more of this, Mr. Moorside, and I’ll do just that.” Mr. Moorside stammered an apology and quickly made his way back into the tavern itself, not even so much as looking back. “Are you quite all right?” Caroline smiled as Mrs. Beeson looked at her a little anxiously, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m fine, Mrs.

Beeson, thank you. Nothing I couldn’t handle.” As she’d grown up, Caroline had become used to shooing away advances from the men who frequented the tavern. Some had become a little more lewd of late, but she’d managed to stop them in their tracks regardless. It helped that Mrs. Beeson kept an eye out for her. She knew that Martin would be on hand if things got ugly. The men always complimented her, which she knew was just to try and sweeten her up in the hope she might end up cuddling up to them. She shook her head, biting back a sigh. The men who came to the tavern were nothing like the kind of men she sometimes let herself dream about.

“You ought to be thinking about your future, Caroline,” Mrs. Beeson said, interrupting Caroline’s thoughts. “A tavern isn’t much of a place for you.” Caroline smiled at the lady, knowing that Mrs. Beeson had expressed the very same thing multiple times before. “Mrs. Beeson, I’m quite happy here.” Mrs. Beeson shook her head. “This tavern is doing well thanks to you, but I don’t want you to think you’ve got to stay here.

I can hire a girl if you ever want to up and leave for a bit. Mind you’ve got that fortune from your parents!” Caroline did remember but shook her head. It was not really a fortune although it certainly was a substantial amount of money and, for that, she was grateful. However, even though that money was now available to her since she had turned eighteen, Caroline had no idea what to do with it. She was well aware that, even if she did go in search of her own life for a time, she would eventually have to find employment for her monies would not stretch until the end of her days. “You should be out exploring the world,” Mrs. Beeson continued, gently. “Out meeting folk, finding someone to fall in love with you and make a new life for yourself. You don’t have to stay here, Caroline. I don’t want you thinking you’re obliged to do that.

” “I don’t,” Caroline replied at once, reassuring Mrs. Beeson. “For the time being, I’m quite happy here, Mrs. Beeson. This is my home. This is the only life I’ve ever really known and I’m truly grateful for it. Perhaps, in time, I’ll start yearning for an adventure but there’s nothing of that in me as yet. I’m happy here in Smithfield Market, really.” Mrs. Beeson did not look at all convinced, wearing a look that Caroline knew all too well to be an expression of slight disbelief, but she eventually shrugged, sighed and turned her back to go back into the tavern.

“It’s your life, Caroline,” she said, over her shoulder. “Just make sure you’re doing whatever it is you want.” Caroline sighed to herself, shaking her head and muttering under her breath as she picked up another glass to dry. The truth was, she had very little idea of what it was she wanted to do with this life she called her own. With a brother away in the army and her parents long gone from this world, there was very little security for her other than in the Beeson Arms. Was it fear that held her back? Or was it that she truly did feel at home here? Biting her lip, Caroline set the last glass down, hung the cloth back on the peg and walked back into the tavern, ready to help Mrs. Beeson with the final round of drinks. The problem here was that she had very little time to think. She was always so busy, either clearing up the tavern from the night before or preparing it for the night to come. There was always work to be done, and very little time to have to herself, to allow her thoughts to come out into the light and to truly consider them.

However, at some point, Caroline knew she would have to let herself think about what Mrs. Beeson had said. As much as she knew she would always have a home here, perhaps she did need to step out from Smithfield Market and find a life of her own. A life where she could make her own choices and chase after her own dreams. “Caro!” She started, the glass she’d been filling jerking in her hand. Only one person called her Caro. A person she had not seen these last three years. “Caro! Here!” She set the glass down carefully, wiping the moisture from her hand with her apron before looking up, hardly daring to believe it. “Peter!” she exclaimed, seeing his handsome face and felt tears prick at the corner of her eyes. “Oh, Peter.

You’ve come home!”

.

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